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'You Look Nice Today'

In his second novel, "You Look Nice Today," author Stanley Bing takes a look at workplace situations.

Interested in how people are shaped by the organizations they work for, Bing tackles the issue of what on the surface appears to be sexual harassment, but in reality is about friendship, loyalty and betrayal.

Bing tells The Early Show co-anchor Rene Syler, "This book was based on a jury duty that I did so it's loosely based on a real situation that happened."

It revolves around secretary CarolAnne Winter who finds herself on the fast track to success as an indispensable assistant to an executive everyone calls Harb. The two soon form a close professional relationship. As Winter's life begins to unravel and spin out of control, she ends up hurting the man who has helped her the most.

Bing explains, "It's really just that it calls his whole career into question and the nature of friendship that they had. It's funny in the sense that the relationships are kind of bizarre, but it's also sad because he sort of gets what's coming to him for being a doofus."

Bing has worked in corporate America for more than 20 years. His books typically center around business affairs and situations.

His other recent book, "The Big Bing," is a collection of 20 years of wit, wisdom, stories and parables on such topics as technology, management, how to deal with your boss and how to handle a situation when people are mean to you.

The media executive/writer says it's up to readers to decide what is the message of his novel. He adds, "There's a message about freedom and life, asserting yourself but only when the structure that surrounds you falls apart. Sometimes people are trapped by the structure of their lives, work and marriage and when it unravels, it's an opportunity as well as a possible hurt."

Bing is known to many at CBS as Gil Schwartz, executive vice president of communications for CBS Television. He took his pen name when he started working for Esquire magazine, he says.

"A friend at Esquire asked me to write a column on business strategies, and I took a pen name in order for me to be able to write in whatever way I chose, funny or hostile etc.," he says. "This is when I became Stanley Bing. I got the name from a play I was writing where the character of Stanley was cut out of the play. I wrote for Esquire from 1984-1995. I then went to Fortune Magazine and I'm on the back page of Fortune in every issue."

As a business humorist working for Esquire and Fortune magazines, Bing has entertained readers with his columns. "I know the world of work and I know the world of bosses and being bossed. It's common to everyone who works. There is no difference between working at a gas station or working in a corporate setting," he notes.

He is also the writer of "What Would Machiavelli Do? The Ends Justify the Meanness," "Lloyd: What Happened," a novel, and "Throwing the Elephant: Zen and the Art of Managing Up."

Read an excerpt from Chapter 4 of "You Look Nice Today":

"What happened was this: CaroleAnne was on the way one morning to get everyone some coffee. This was not part of her job description, but she was accustomed to doing it anyhow, without complaint. Often I would see her, singing a quiet song to herself in her fetching little contralto, brewing a potful of java at the Mr. Coffee. That morning, just at the moment she was passing by the office of Dick Podesky, the door to that room opened, and Dick himself emerged, shined and buffed for the new day as usual, with a pair of Japanese businessmen in tow.

"Good morning, Dick!" CaroleAnne sang out.

I knew it was trouble right off. Not that people didn't call Dick Dick. They did. Certainly, nobody called him Richard. But when visitors were in the office, it was sort of assumed that, when he was in the mood for formality, support staff would refer to him by name either not at all, or as Mr. Podesky. Louise, as confused as she was by many aspects of corporate life and work, at least had known this much. Shelly, certainly, had this portion of her duties down cold. CaroleAnne, on the other hand, seemed to have the unfortunate belief that everyone within hailing distance was, if not her friend, then at least a working peer. It's a nice illusion. I was sorry she was about to lose it.

Unaware of the storm that was about to strike her tiny dinghy, CaroleAnne breezed insouciantly by, and I took a quick peek at Dick to see if my initial reaction was justified. It was. The Japanese dignitaries having departed with the traditional orgy of bowing, Podesky had walked very slowly and thoughtfully to the center of our main work area with an expression of implacable calm, and just stood there for a long while. This was a bad sign. It meant that Dick was trying to think seriously about something, and that exercise always made him trend towards a certain meanness of spirit.

After a few moments, back came CaroleAnne again with the empty coffee cups in her hands. This was her routine. She would go to the vestibule where the department coffeemaker was ensconced, set up the brew, retrieve each person's mug and bring it to his or her desk, including her own and Shelly's. Several minutes later, when the coffee was done, she would retrieve the pot and go from desk to desk, dispensing. As each cup was filled, she would invariably say, "God bless," in an unpretentious but somewhat overly serious way, and depart. I believe she invented this system in the very first days of her employment, after trying out the method of bringing out individual cups one by one (too time consuming and servile, I would guess) and transporting a number of portions out together on one tray (chance of a major accident that could possibly ruin one of the few officeworthy outfits in her possession).

I don't know about anyone else, but I appreciated the fact that CaroleAnne was willing to do this. It did not demean her in my sight. She was hired to be a support person. Coffee is an enormous support, is it not? The knowledge that there was someone so unassuming about herself that she was willing to act out this part was also a blessing in a world full of unhelpful self-aggrandizers. It made me think more of her, actually, not less.

At any rate, CaroleAnne was breezing back with the empty coffee cups. She detoured around the inert form of Podesky, who was standing there, doing his version of fuming ostentatiously.

"Excuse me, Dick," said CaroleAnne with exquisite deference and bad timing.

That seemed to do it for Dick. He snapped to attention, looked around him as a man who had just awakened from a lengthy trance, went into Harb's office and closed the door. I heard voices, then louder voices, then some shouting. The shouting was all in Dick's voice and I knew that he was treating Harb to one of his deplorable yelling episodes. Awful things they were, really. A grown man, blown up like a distended puffer fish, expelling air at high volume simply because no one would challenge his right to do so. I've always found such yelling in the office to be distasteful. Not everyone does it, but those that do cannot, I fear, be dissuaded. I believe they think it speaks of power. It does not. It testifies to nothing but petulance and weakness. Of course, that's just my opinion.

I went to the closed door of Harb's office and leaned against the outer credenza, pretending to read a memo. The conversation from that vantage point was quite audible. Across the room, CaroleAnne was cringing with the coffeepot, her eyes as big as Frisbees.

Dick had stoked himself up quite a goodly snit by that point. "Damn it, Harb! I won't have it!" he choked out through the closed door.

"Quiet, Dick. Please," purred Harb. "There's no reason the office needs to hear you."

"I don't want her calling me that." So that was it. The Dick thing.

"Dick," said Harb.

"It's disrespectful!"

Copyright 2003 by Gil Schwartz.

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